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Buy Art Fair: the review

Thalia Allington-Wood visits the Buy Art Fair and swept away by its scale, ambition and moments of real talent

Published on September 25th 2009.

Buy Art Fair: the review

The hum of conversation echoes around Urbis’ open plan space, glasses chink, tickets are ripped, packets of red circle entry stickers sit impatiently in art dealers pockets, chequebooks quiver. This is Manchester’s Buy Art Fair, the biggest commercial art fair outside London. Temporary walls busy with paintings. Corridors pinned with prints. Alcoves and alcoves of artworks. This is a not only a fair, but a bloody maze as well.

A book carefully carved, the middle scooped out, echoes the geographical representations of hills and valleys. The sculpture visually presenting what a book will do to the mind when read: create a landscape.

There is, as with most art fairs, an awful lot of tack. Glamorous Marilyn Monroes, puppy dogs and a glittery Che Guevara. But with tack comes variety, and art to suit all tastes. From misty seascapes to abstract graphics. From water coloured European hill towns to subtly comic illustrations. Need something to hang on your wall? This is the place to get it.

With a bursting bank balance, I would have purchased one of Isabel Rock’s fantastical and inventive illustrations from her Country Gentleman series, showcased by Bearspace. Manipulating period portraits from the Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal, Rock creates images that belong in a disturbing Alice in Wonderland adventure. Refined men with monocles suddenly find themselves gallivanting on a long legged bird, their trim hair now flowing freely in the wind. Sirs that shake hands stiffly are beheaded and wildly bearded.

I would also happily have walked home with a piece by Mathew Holding, to be found in Corridor 8’s exhibit: bright graphic montages of modern architecture; simple and stunning. Variety, as it happens, also brings in some truly good pieces of art.

Big names are available if you dig deep enough. In both the fair and your wallet. A wonderful Henry Moore print can be yours for £3000 from Jan Peters. Women reclining their scratchy, voluptuous, etched bodies in open landscapes. Or alternatively one of Jeff Koons well known Balloon Dog’s could stand proudly in your home for a total of four grand, courtesy of Opus Art Gallery.

Walk up to the third floor and you’ll find The Manchester Contemporary, a more spacious and relaxed affair, in which twelve leading UK contemporary galleries take to the floor and provide some real gems. Including a specially commissioned project by Nathanial Mellors, The Tip-ex Block/Play Below Zero. A candid sculpture that is created by the process of deletion and correction. In striving to eliminate, art is created.

Here the gallery Nettie Horn displays some great work from the artist Kim Rugg. Meticulously collaged Guardian newspapers and iconic cartoon magazines, Rugg plays with the trust people place in words and complacency with which the news is accepted. Guardian becomes ‘aadeGhinrTu’, an article paragraph becomes streams of single letters, a front page picture a haze of colour. Journalistic media is amalgamated into bizarre and unreadable formats. Using the same concept, one panel of floral wallpaper sheds its blossom onto the exhibitions floor. The wallpaper, often the purely functionary in an exhibition, is given life.

Both Bureau and Castlefield Gallery also impressed. Mit Senoj’s delicate paintings of figures pieced together with thorny coloured shapes and petals. A book carefully carved, the middle scooped out, echoes the geographical representations of hills and valleys. The sculpture visually presenting what a book will do to the mind when read: create a landscape.

The sheer size and quantity of work on display at Buy Art Fair is overwhelming. You will need to leave a solid afternoon to get through it all, but it will be worth it. You will find beautiful work, tame work, subtle work and thought-provoking work. Amidst the bustle there are gems.

Buy Art Fair is in Urbis until Sunday 27 September.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

banksySeptember 25th 2009.

Thank God all those horrendous prints with a 'New York' theme have vanished from the stalls. Now it's all me me me!

JackSeptember 25th 2009.

..and next time..its gonna look great in the football museum! Is anyone actuall concerned that one of our major art and design venues is about to be shut down?

Ant YeamesSeptember 25th 2009.

I agree well done. But now I'm intrigued in an antiques roadshow way. Which piece sold for £9300?

Buy Art FairSeptember 25th 2009.

Guys, thanks so much for all the comments and feedback. We're glad that you all came and that most of you took some positives away with you (and better still some art!). Just to address some points though: The issues about difficult re-entry are unacceptable, and this is certainly something we can improve for next year. Also I agree that some of the stands could have done with better lighting but it is absolutely the responsibility of the individual exhibitors to purchase their lights (this is all clearly flagged up ahead of time and easy to do) and the vast majority of standowners did this. Also I am suprised about the comments for Friday as the general feedback from exhibitors was that it was hugely busier than Friday last year. In fact the show generally had attendence figures up almost 50% to over 4,800 visitors, and over £175k of art got sold on site (the largest piece was £9,300!). The fact we had over 50% of stands rebook last year (which is good for any exhibition) and should exceed that this year is testament to how the galleries really feel about Buy Art Fair - it works, they come back. We always believed that Manchester deserved, indeed needed, an art show, and after a mere two years we are proud of how far we've come and of the huge amount of support and positive feedback we have had. Biggest art fair outside London from a standing start is no mean feat, but we hope to see you next year guys, and we'll be striving to do better still

So Much to Answer ForSeptember 25th 2009.

I went last Friday, but managed to leave with without any damage on the plastic. The stairs up the the third floor (Manchester Contemporary Art) was busy. No soon had people walked up, they were running back down again! That was the only let down of the fair. In my opinion anyway.

NellSeptember 25th 2009.

Loved the Isabel Rock pieces and we bought the small print run of the set though would have loved to have bought a large original; the one we wanted had sold. Also loved Hector de Gregorios work. It was good to see Richard Heeps there again as his photography and printing techniques are full of colour, imagination and quality. Talking to some of the stand owners there was a lot of angst about stands being provided WITHOUT lighting and the poor organisation. Others were querying exactly what marketing had gone on because Friday was absolutely dead with gallery owners commenting that they usually never get a chance to sit down at other fairs. There was concern that there were too many free tickets given to students and artists rather than the potentially buying public. One pointed at the security guard hustling people out at a prompt 7pm on Friday instead of giving time to finish. 7pm, on a Friday, were they mad? I too experienced problems with re-entry to pick up framed pieces and found it utterly dissuading; Manchester must retain a good art fair but with the complaints of stall holders and the pushed approach to organisation, the best galleries simply won't return.

banksySeptember 25th 2009.

Must be me me me!

A RealistSeptember 25th 2009.

One difference between last year and this year was that the people on the stands werent snooty, think it's dawned on everyone that in the current climate you have to be nice to everyone to get the business.

John McrSeptember 25th 2009.

Very impressed last night, some great Art, people and a great turn out

Amateur art buyer to fill spaces on big white apartment wallsSeptember 25th 2009.

Went on Thursday night and today and although I purchased pieces both times, am a little concerned about future viability. I want this to work so it's back (wherever that may be) next year. I assume the galleries have to pay for their stands and so they need to sell art, so why the difficulty getting in? I had free tickets sent in post but there were people being turned away and having to wait because they didn't. When I went on Friday to pick up the piece I bought on Thursday, it was really difficult to get it. I won't go into the boring details but there didn't seem to be any ready process. Surely it would make sense that when buying and picking up later, you get some kind of proof of purchase and are able to pick up near the entrance. When I went to pick it up, we didn't have tickets as we didn't think we'd need them to pick up an already purchased piece. We were escorted through the building by stairs to the top floor and back down again, which is quite some way when carrying a four foot wide work. The attitude of 'well you can get what you've paid for but as you haven't got a ticket for today you must then go' was frustrating as we wanted to look at, and possibly purchase more art, but we didn't feel welcome as we didn't have the 'free entry' info for that day. I went back today and purchased another piece but that was only because it had really caught my eye on Thursday - otherwise I doubt I would have bothered. Glad I got a couple of great pieces but perhaps they need to look at making it more welcoming and therefore profitable for those having stands :)

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